Sunday was a wild day at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, as big, burly, and unruly surf made things challenging for surfers hoping to avoid elimination in Rounds Two and Three. There were a number of incredible heats that resulted in some epic comebacks, big upsets, and intense buzzer-beaters. Below is all you need to know from a stellar day of competition.
Matt Wilkinson may have been surprised to be wearing the yellow jersey heading into the Rip Curl Pro, but he's getting more comfortable with it every day. Wilko, who's never had a solid result at Bells, channeled his inner Occy and used his backside attack to defeat rookie Kanoa Igarashi in Round Three. He won convincingly.
Kelly Slater has admittedly been distracted headed into the 2016 season, and wins haven't come easy as a result. Rhythm has been hard for him to find so far, and Sunday looked like it would be more of the same. His Round Two heat with Timothee Bisso went down to the wire, but in the end, Slater looked like Slater, and made it through. He was so excited he claimed the victory from the water and gave a rather entertaining post-heat interview.
Jordy Smith entered the Rip Curl Pro hoping to find a little momentum. He needs a few heat wins to shake the cobwebs that built up during last year's long period on the disabled list. It didn't come in Round One. But on Sunday Jordy found plenty of room to move in the big and bulky Bells bowls. His forthcoming Round Three match against Caio Ibelli, one of Sunday's best performers, should be a barn burner.
Rookie Caio Ibelli is sure to make a dent this year. You don't become a QS champion without a well-rounded game and Caio showed he has one during his very tough heat with fellow rookie Ryan Callinan. Caio looked solid in his victory, navigating the chops and challenges of big Bells better than most.
Rookie Ryan Callinan has only won a single heat this year, but during his heat with Ibelli on Sunday he demonstrated why he's going to be a force for years to come. His backhand is lightning quick and lethal. Yes, he lost, but his performance was strong enough to win any other heat in that round. His breakthrough moment is coming.
Kolohe Andino began the Australian leg with his best start ever, but at Bells Sunday he had the misfortune of drawing Sebastian Zietz in Round Two. While Kolohe surfed well and held the lead for a good chunk of the heat, he wasn't able to slam the door on Zietz. In the closing minute the Hawaiian got the 6.27 he needed to overtake Andino and advance.
Nat Young is a very dangerous draw at Bells. The Santa Cruz native feels right at home in the big, cold, lumpy righthander. After besting Ace Buchan and Ryan Callinan in Round One, his Round Three victim was Quik Pro giant-killer Stu Kennedy. And while Kennedy got lost in the stormy lineup, Young seemed to be enjoying a fun playdate with the Bells bowl and came in smiling.
Rookie Conner Coffin was foaming at the mouth for his first trip to Bells. On paper, his hard-carving approach seems custom made for this wave at any size. As expected, he let his rails do the work against Jadson Andre and his next match against three-time Bells champion Joel Parkinson will be one rail purists will be setting alarms for.
Jadson Andre put up a valiant fight against Coffin, especially considering he was injured for a good portion of the heat. Andre came down hard trying to stick a closeout reentry on his first ride and surfaced grimacing in pain. Nevertheless, he paddled back out and somehow managed to score an 8.6 later in the heat surfing on his injured leg.
When Andre reached shore he needed help getting up the stairs, and stayed in the medical tent for more than an hour.
Italo Ferreira had one of the better come-from-behind victories of the day with his remarkable last-second ride that earned him a 9.33, enough to deliver him the win over Hawaiian Sebastian Zietz in Round Three. Usually floaters aren't his highest scoring moves, but his massive high-speed glide over a chunky section was a thing of beauty.
Michel Bourez looks to be a serious threat in these conditions, and his powerful attack will only get better if things clean up. The Tahitian had one of the better performances of the day, which included a 9.5, en route to defeating rookie Keanu Asing. Next up for Bourez is Kelly Slater.
Mason Ho finished the day off strong with a last-second victory over reigning World Champion Adriano de Souza in the final wave exchange. The Hawaiian, who loves playing the wildcard spoiler role, delivered the biggest blow of the day, and possibly the year.
Tune in for all the action at 8:00 AM AEST when the Rip Curl Pro resumes.